Many of the men and women who are taking the scripture memory challenge have been tweeting their verse and the results of their meditations. I’d like to do that, however, I can’t quite keep my thoughts down to 140 characters. I’m going to share them on my blog at the end of every week instead. Grab a cup of tea or coffee and your Bible because this one is long. I’m praying that it edifies and encourages you today.
This week I memorized Philippians 1:7-10
(7)It is right for me to feel this way about you all,
because I hold you in my heart,
for you are all partakers with me of grace,
both in my imprisonment and in the defense
and confirmation of the gospel.
(8)For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.
(9)And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more,
with knowledge and all discernment,
(10)so that you may approve what is excellent,
and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ,
(11)filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ,
to the glory and praise of God.
Verse 7: This way. Paul is referring to verses 3-5, in which he told the Philippian church that (a) he thanked God for them every time he thought of them, and (b) when he prayed for them he always prayed with joy. Why did he remember them and pray for them with joy? He tells them in verse 5 that it is because of their faithful partnership in the gospel. And he explains in verse 7 that his feelings for them are right. His feelings, generated by a fond remembrance which fuels his joy in them, are right.
Paul’s right feelings. He holds them in his heart. Just think of what he was like before Jesus interrupted his trek to Damascus: he was on a zealous manhunt, ready to imprison, beat, or kill anyone who followed The Way. He hated the church. But Jesus gave Paul a new heart, one that could hold affection for the church. He was called to convert and disciple and love the very people he once set out to destroy. And he suffered repeatedly to do it. What an amazing testimony! Many of us cannot discern our feelings, but Paul knew the difference between his wrong feelings and his right feelings for the church.
One reason Paul knew his feelings so well is because they were rooted, not arbitrary or simple emotions. His feelings found their foundation in the fact that the Philippians were partners with him in the gospel (Phil. 1:5), “partakers with [Paul] of grace,” and they were suffering right along with him in his imprisonment, defending and confirming the gospel in Philippi. Nothing binds hearts like suffering together, even when separated by distance.
Verse 8: Paul yearns for the Philippian church “with the affection of Christ Jesus.” I wish I understood exactly what he means by that. I am certain that it means something more than a natural affection. The only thing I can think of that may come close to what he means is the way I feel when I’m praying for my children. I am yearning some very specific things for them in their relationships with God and for their lives. I am desperate to see these things in them.
But Paul is talking about his affection, so maybe it isn’t about what he wants to see develop in them. Perhaps he’s talking about how deeply he desires to be with them (in the flesh) instead of in prison. In Jesus’ prayer for his disciples, he said, “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am” (John 17:24 ESV). Maybe Paul is talking about that kind of affection and longing. Or maybe, because of Paul’s affection for Christ, he is able to love those whom Christ loves.
The KJV uses the word “bowels.” That Greek word is also translated ‘inward affection + tender mercy’. And there are many examples in scripture of Jesus demonstrating his tender mercies. I don’t think I’ve ever really considered Paul’s feelings toward the church as being similar to, or the same as, Jesus’. A yearning with affection and tenderness?
Verse 9: Paul prays that the Philippians’ love would abound, multiply, fill up to overflowing, more and more. I think the love Paul refers to here is the church’s love for one another and their love for Christ. He specifically prays that their love would abound in two areas: knowledge (Gk. epignōsis) and all discernment (Gk. aisthēsis).
The word for knowledge Paul uses means specific knowledge, precise and correct knowledge. I think Paul means that he prays for the church’s love to abound with knowledge regarding sound doctrine, truth about Jesus. Regarding discernment, I think he prayed that their love would abound with spiritual perception, that their love would grow in its ability to tell right from wrong. I can testify to having once loved people and things I should not; but as my love for the things that God loves increased, so did my ability to know when I was loving something (a thing of this world) that I shouldn’t.
Verse 10: Paul prays that their love would about with knowledge and discernment SO THAT they might grow in their abilities to approve of things that are excellent. He prayed this for them because he wanted them to stand pure and blameless before Jesus Christ.
If we love sound doctrine and truth, then we will also grow in our ability to discern truth from error, to sort good from bad, and to approve of things that are excellent and things that are not worthy to even speak of (Eph. 5:12). This process of sanctification works toward our purity and blamelessness and preparedness before Jesus when he comes. The parable of the ten virgins comes to mind — keep your wicks trimmed and burning.
Verse 11: What is the fruit of righteousness? First, Paul says we ought to be filled with it. Second, it comes through Jesus Christ. Third, it is to the glory and praise of God.
My righteous contribution = 0. I believe 2 Corinthians 5:21 which says, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Jesus bore all of my sin on the cross, while God credited to me all of Christ’s righteousness. God’s grace through Jesus is supposed to make a difference in the way that I conduct myself. Colossians 1:10 says, “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.” That’s very similar to these verses in Philippians. Also, I am supposed to bear fruit in keeping with my repentance (Matt. 3:8). The fruit of the Spirit also comes to mind.
Galatians 5:16-25: “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.”
Another passage that comes to mind regarding fruit, righteousness, and the glory of God is Ephesians 1 and 2, but I’ll only print 2:8-10 here.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
A few points of application:
1) Have you ever been part of a church led by a man who didn’t seem to care a hill of beans about the people that made up that church? A man who acted as if the people were there for him? A man who wouldn’t preach if he didn’t think there was a big enough crowd? A man who belittled you and your gifts? A man who said, “Well, if you don’t like the way I do things, you’re welcome to find another church.” Paul was not that kind of man. Certainly, the church at Philippi had its imperfections, but Paul loved the them and had confidence that God would bring to completion the good work that he began in them (Phil 1:6). And it was right for him to have such affection for them. I want to be in a church led by a man who genuinely loves the church, who yearns for his church to know Christ, who prays for them to abound in love with knowledge and discernment and so be pure and blameless when the Lord comes.
2) Second, I have to ask myself whether or not my feelings toward my church family are right. Do I hold them in my heart? Or is my attitude much like the hireling’s who says, “Well, you can find another church if you don’t like it here”? At times I can tell when my feelings aren’t right, when I’m just thinking of myself, or when I’m holding back, erecting a wall. I think Paul was more of an “all in” kind of minister. I shouldn’t be afraid to go “all in” when it comes to loving my brothers and sisters in Christ.
3) How am I doing when it comes to praying for and ministering to Christians around the world who are in prison for the faith? In what sense am I partnering with them? Suffering with them the way the church partnered, supported and suffered with Paul?
4)How is my love? Is it abounding with knowledge of the truth and sound doctrine? Do I love and approve of things that God calls excellent? When I discern something isn’t excellent, what is my response? Glad obedience? Grumbling obedience? Or outright disobedience?
5) Is a growth in love with knowledge and discernment resulting in more holiness? How are my preferences and tastes transforming? Do I have a real sense of being set apart, “holy to the Lord”? Do I see any fruit of righteousness in my life? Is it filling up?
Remember, this lifeis not unto me, not for my glory, but to the glory and praise of God. He is the one at work in me and he will accomplish all He desires.
Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.
(1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 ESV)